I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

Friday, August 7, 2009

AEA Legislative Update

From Doug Kilgore

August 3 - 7 , 2009

Latest on the Budget
The House and Senate both met today at 1 p.m. and adjourned until Monday at 1 p.m. The latest rumor is that the Senate and House will move to "decouple" the tax bill so that the sales tax is a stand alone issue. Monday has been established as the newest deadline to refer the sales tax to the November ballot, so this is the governor's last attempt to salvage this budget. It still does not look like the Republicans will be able to get their 16 votes for this as a stand alone issue. We will keep you updated as we hear more news on the budget. This Legislative Update focuses on the details of the budget deal, what it means, and some specifics of what's happened this past week. Check for updates.

Permanent Tax Cut for the Wealthy
In addition to punitive measures against teachers and massive cuts to education, the budget proposal includes over $650 million in permanent tax cuts for large corporations and the richest Arizonans. It is mind boggling to imagine a state legislature giving out that much money when it is facing a $2 billion budget deficit.

The first tax cut comes from the repeal of the school tax (state equalization property tax), which brings in $250 million in revenue for Arizona's public schools. Government officials estimate the average impact for residential property owners is between four and seven dollars per month. Small business owners pay approximately $600 annually, and, on average, the largest property owners in the state pay less than $2,500. So, while teachers and support staff may save less than $100 a year, the largest corporations are going to save more than $2,000 if this property tax is repealed.

The second tax cut is $400 million in permanent income tax cuts beginning in the 2011 tax year. This cut benefits mostly the wealthy as it provides a tax cut of over $600 to someone earning over $200,000 annually, but it will only provide a $60 tax cut to a new teacher who earns $30,000. So, not only is Arizona's revenue being reduced and money being taken out of school funding, but the middle class isn't even going to benefit from these tax cuts.

Ballot Referral #1
There are two ballot referrals included in the budget. The first is called the Arizona State Budget Stabilization Act. It includes the governor's sales tax and a spending cap and if passed would be referred to the November 2009 ballot. Read a summary of this ballot referral.

It is important to note that there is no dedication of the sales tax money besides stating that two-thirds must be set aside for K-12 or higher education. Many legislators have publicly declared this will not offset cuts to education and will instead be used to either backfill the state's obligation for basic state aid or pay down past borrowing (the K-12 rollover). In addition, if the voters approve this temporary sales tax, they will also be instituting a state-level spending freeze that would not allow funding to go above the June 2008 level through fiscal year 2012.

Ballot Referral #2
The second referral is called the Voter Protection Act and calls for the suspension of Prop 105. If this were to get on the ballot and pass, the legislature would be able to divert the Classroom Site Fund monies to another purpose. Note that the monies that would be available via the tobacco tax, Prop 301 sales tax money, etc. would not be included in the spending cap contained in the "Arizona State Budget Stabilization Act" provision. Read a summary of this ballot referral.

Cost of Senator Harper's Vote
During the July 31 Senate Appropriations Committee meeting it became clear that Surprise Sen. Jack Harper had worked out a deal with the governor in order to ensure his vote on the legislative majority budget proposal. Below is what he received for his support of the budget:

Cut 5 percent staff at state agencies, excluding universities and K-12 education.

Cut 50 percent staff at the Auditor General's Office.

Cut $1 million from the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority.

Cut future revenue from state sales tax for Tucson redevelopment project, Rio Nuevo.

This deal is vindictive because it doesn't require these agencies to just make budget cuts; it calls for across-the-board layoffs, which means more than 2,600 Arizonans would be without jobs. These are tax payers who spend their paychecks in the local economy. If these people lose their jobs, this reduces Arizona's revenue significantly. A better solution might be to NOT cut taxes to multi-national corporations in the state.

The cuts outlined in Sen. Harper's deal are in addition to cuts already included in the budget proposal, which means the Automobile Theft Authority will have to reduce two-thirds of its budget. They will lose $1 million in funding because according to the Arizona Capitol Times, Sen. Harper says he sees the much of work of this agency as "unnecessary."

Finally, why is this Maricopa County legislator targeting a Tucson project? Rio Nuevo is a special taxing district which was to receive $600 million in state sales taxes until 2025 for voter-approved redevelopment projects. One of the conditions for Sen. Harper's vote was to cut off any future revenue for this district and only allow them to pay off existing debts. This deal is the cost of a senator's vote but at what cost is it to Arizona?

Truth About Tuition Tax Credit Program Coming Out
AEA has been talking about Arizona's tuition tax credit program for years and how it drains public school funds and provides millions of dollars in income to state Representative Steve Yarbrough, who owns the largest School Tuition Organization (STO) in the state.

AEA has fought the expansion of this program at the state legislature and most recently Rep. Yarbrough's bill HB2288 to eliminate the sunset date for the corporate income tax credit for donations to STOs. The bill was signed by the governor July 14, 2009. Read a summary of the bill.

"The AEA has been actively working to repeal, overturn, or defeat tuition tax credits since the first ones were passed more than 12 years ago," says AEA President John Wright. "We have taken litigation to the Arizona Supreme Court, and we currently have a case pending at the U.S. Appellate Court. We have publicly demonstrated their abuses in print and broadcast media, and we were the ONLY state-wide organization to testify against the expansion of these tax credits when they came before the legislature this past session. We have been unsuccessful at almost every turn because, I believe, we have not had the public on our side. Now perhaps that will change."

The mainstream media is finally starting to report on the tuition tax credit program. The East Valley Tribune conducted its own investigation into the program and ran a 3-part investigative report into Arizona' private school tuition tax credit program called "Rigged Privilege."

Read recent news media reports on the truth about tuition tax credits.
Private school tax credits rife with abuse, East Valley Tribune
School tuition organizations unaccountable, East Valley Tribune
Tuition-aid program benefits wealthy families, raises concerns, Arizona Republic
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